by Julie Eshbaugh
Each of us has a personal writing style when it comes to getting that first, rough draft down on paper. Some writers type rapidly and let their words pour onto the page in a stream of consciousness. These writers test their ideas easily, and tend to complete NaNoWriMo in two weeks or less. These writers are confident in their ability to revise, and aren’t afraid to put bad writing on paper in the quest to get that all important first draft down.
Alas, I am not one of these writers.
I am one of those other writers. The kind that types a sentence, reads it over, revises it, reads it again, deletes it, and starts the whole process over again. My ideas go down on paper slowly. I agonize over word choice, even when writing a scene I know will likely be cut when I revise. I go back and re-read constantly, interrupting the flow of my thoughts.
Maybe my first draft will need less revision because of my edit-while-I-write style. Maybe. But first I have to finish it. And truthfully, that first draft takes me a very long time.
Frustrated with my stagnating word count, I recently took a radical step to reduce my self-editing. I forced myself to dictate my first draft into a hand-held digital recorder.
Since beginning this experiment about a week ago, two things have happened. First, my writing has become much more rough and ugly. Second, my daily word count has more than tripled.
Both of these results are exactly what I needed. Yes, this first draft is full of messy transitions, horrible prose, and cringe-worthy dialogue, but isn’t that what a first draft is meant to be? This draft isn’t the book that will one day sit on a bookstore shelf. This draft is the idea that will be polished into that book. And at this rate, I’ll be polishing before I know it.
If you’re having difficulty letting go and just getting that rough draft down, consider dictating your story. Here are some tips that will help you get started:
• Don’t play back your dictation until you’re ready to transcribe. Don’t delete anything you say or go back and revise. I don’t even have headphones plugged into my recorder while I’m dictating. After all, the idea is to turn off the self editor while you draft.
•Don’t be afraid to sound silly. Don’t worry if you start every sentence with the words, “And then,” or if you repeat the same pronoun ten times in a paragraph. You’re going to revise later. Just talk. Tell your story. You can work on finding the right words later.
• Whatever you do, don’t give in to the urge to edit while you transcribe. This can be extremely tempting, but it results in a loss of all the benefits that dictating is supposed to provide. It also takes too much time. I tried editing my words as I transcribed one night, and I didn’t get the day’s entire recording down on paper. Then the next day, I was confused about where I’d left off. Dictation allows you to cover a lot of ground in your story quickly. Transcribe just as quickly, or you’ll get bogged down.
• Ignore your voice. Don’t worry about your annoying accent or the nasally way you pronounce your vowels. You can work on your diction another time. Right now you’re writing the first draft of your novel.
• Have an idea of what happens in a scene before you start. You don’t have to have the entire book outlined, but you should know what action you need to describe when you press record. For me, it works best if I watch the scene in my head like a movie, and then dictate the action the way it just played out in my mind.
• Have fun. Do different voices for each character. Laugh when you catch yourself using the word “suddenly” for the third time in a scene. Realize that rough drafts are called “rough” for a reason.
• Let yourself write some horrible prose.
• Trust your ability to revise.
Think dictating might be for you? Tried it before? Please share your thoughts and experiences in the comments!